The Magicians – Lev Grossman

The MagiciansQuentin Coldwater is an Ivy League-bound high school senior. Intelligent and bookish, a genius at math, Quentin is nevertheless secretly obsessed with a series of children’s books set in a magical land called Fillory. On the chilly, dreary day of his Princeton interview, he encounters a mysterious woman who gives him a small book called The Magicians, which appears to be the (non-existent) sixth book in the Fillory series. A small piece of paper flutters from the pages, and Quentin chases it through a small community garden until he suddenly emerges into what is—unexpectedly and inexplicably—a warm late-summer afternoon on the expansive grounds of a stately old mansion.

This sudden journey plunges Quentin into a world of which he had previously only dreamed: a world where magic is real, and he can do it. After a strenuous exam, most of which he doesn’t understand the purpose of, he is invited to attend the secret, prestigious Brakebills, the only college of magic in North America. But as he gets deeper and deeper into this hidden magical world, his newfound powers lead less to the complete happiness he expected and more to a cynical disillusionment he never anticipated.

Guys, I’m 25. I loved Harry Potter when I was younger, but almost a decade after the series ended, I didn’t think I’d ever find a book about a school of magic that would pull me in the way Hogwarts did. But, guys. The Magicians is like Harry Potter, The College Years, with a healthy dose of Narnia, and a dash of soap-opera drama for good measure. It was fantastic.

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There were so many great things about this book that I barely know where to start. The existential ennui that Quentin and his friends suffer from after graduation is grittily realistic, and their need to be needed is palpable. As magicians, they can do whatever they want pretty much whenever they want without having to work for a living, so many Brakebills graduates—including Quentin and his friends—fall into the same unfortunate pattern of hedonism year after year. As someone who is currently unemployed, I can certainly relate to the ennui.

It’s always interesting, too, to see what new authors come up with in terms of what exactly “magic” is. You’d think that there wouldn’t be much new to come up with, and I suppose I haven’t read a whole ton of fantasy so I can’t really say, but Grossman’s take on magic was intriguing. Unlike in Harry Potter, wands are pretty much eschewed at Brakebills—instead, spells are performed with complex hand and finger motions in any number of ancient languages. No faux Latin spells here. (In fact, none are ever actually included in the dialogue, probably because Grossman didn’t want to try to transliterate Aramaic—and I don’t blame him.) The spells also depend heavily on what Brakebills faculty and students refer to as “Circumstances”: that is, the position of the moon/sun/stars/etc., the season, the time of day, the temperature, and any number of other physical conditions that may influence the effectiveness of a spell. I do appreciate such things, because especially as an adult, the magic in Harry Potter sometimes seems too easy. At least they have to try a little in The Magicians.

Anyway, The Magicians is a fantastic book and if you like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia (like most people in the world), you will definitely enjoy it. Stay tuned for my reviews of The Magician King (January 12) and The Magician’s Land (January 16)!


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3 thoughts on “The Magicians – Lev Grossman

  1. I’ve been eyeing this book for a while now, because it seems to be a good series. I mean, who doesn’t like Magic College? But I’m getting more and more excited by this series as I read different reviews. I think I’ll try to give this series a go this year. If it is anything like you said, I will probably enjoy it very much.

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